The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox lead with France agreeing after all to contribute a large number of troops to the peacekeeping force in Lebanon. The New York Times leads with the FDA approving Plan B, the morning-after pill, for over-the-counter use. The Los Angeles Times leads with a local story but off-leads Plan B. USA Today leads with a story on states reducing property taxes as housing prices rise, but replacing the income with higher sales or income taxes.
The Post scooped everyone yesterday, but now it's official: Plan B should be available without a prescription by the end of the year to women 18 and older, after years of being held up by political disputes within the FDA. The reaction to yesterday's decision went pretty much as you'd expect. Supporters cheered but said they would work to get the age restriction removed; opponents, mainly social conservatives, promised to make the approval a political issue. Everyone notes that senators, including Hillary Clinton, who had had used the issue to hold up the confirmation of acting FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, said they would now allow it to go ahead.
President Bush obliquely supported the decision—asked Monday about the pending move, he said, "I support Andy's decision." At least one anti-abortion group singled out Bush for retribution. "Let there be no mistake about it. Today's decision lies at the feet of President Bush," the group's president said, according to the NYT. Another group said it will sue to overturn the decision, the LAT says.
The practical impact is not likely to be great, the NYT says: "Couples in the United States have so much unprotected sex—half of all pregnancies are unplanned—that even if the pills were passed out like aspirin, they would be unlikely to cause a major change in abortion and disease rates."
French President Jacques Chirac announced that France will offer 2,000 troops to the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Paris was originally expected to lead the mission but then offered only 200 troops, drawing worldwide mockery. But Chirac said France was able to commit now that the U.N., Israel, and Lebanon have agreed to new, aggressive rules of engagement.
Earlier this week Italy had stepped up and offered 3,000 of its own troops and was asked by Israel to lead the force; Chirac said yesterday that France was still willing to lead and "the direction of the expanded force appears to be in French hands," according to the Post. The Journal notes that Chirac, in his televised address, pointedly asked all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to contribute, but the U.S. and U.K. have already said they are too taxed in Iraq and Afghanistan. China and Russia have stayed mum on whether they'll participate. The French move should open the door for other European countries, plus Turkey and Morocco, to make their own pledges.
The NYT fronts news that the State Department is looking into whether Israel violated secret agreements forbidding the use of U.S.-made cluster bombs against civilians in Lebanon. The U.S. cut off Israel's cluster bomb supply for six years in the 1980s for similar violations. The NYT says officials it talked to think this investigation won't lead to any such sanctions but is instead intended to blunt criticism in the Arab world that the U.S. supports Israel too heavily. But if that's the case, TP wonders, why is no one talking publicly about the investigation?
Also in the papers … The NYT fronts an exhaustive review of the evidence in the Duke lacrosse rape case. A NYT researcher in China was cleared of charges he passed state secrets to the newspaper but is still going to jail for fraud. The top U.S. general in the Middle East says Iraq is not close to civil war. President Bush is vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, and the Post and LAT are on the scene. Condoleezza Rice is taking flak from the right for her handling of the Middle East, the Journal says. Katrina evacuees from New Orleans are changing the character of Baton Rouge, says the Post. British troops are trading their tanks for Land Rovers and have abandoned a garrison in southern Iraq to fight guerrilla-style against Shiite rebels along the Iranian border, the Post reports. The Bush administration has filed briefs in support of parents who are fighting school integration programs in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., the LAT reports. A Malaysian court is set to decide whether it's legal to convert to Christianity, the Journal reports. Everyone stuffs wire reports of an Austrian girl who was reunited with her parents after being kidnapped for eight years.
Under the Sign of UB313: Everyone either fronts or reefers astronomers' final verdict on Pluto, that it is a "dwarf" planet in the same category as Charon and UB313 rather than Jupiter and Mars. But only the WSJ looks at a crucial interest group that was left out of the decision: astrologers. The cosmic implications to Pluto's demotion are many. It could be a bad time for Scorpios, such as Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, who are heavily affected by Pluto. Some astrologers are excited about what amounts to a promotion of the dwarf planets, data from which will undoubtedly allow for more exacting prognostications. "This is a moment that I've been waiting for a long time," one told the Journal. "People are finally talking about Charon." But others argue the change will not be that great. Astrologers who want to think that Pluto is still a planet will continue to do so, and one notes that the celestial bodies in question are so far away that "UB313 is never going to tell you whether Wednesday is good for romance."